12. The case for human ambitiousness
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” — Carl Sagan
Life is an unlikely event, and even more unlikely is the formation of neurally complex bi-pedals and their explicit showcase of intelligence and self-aware consciousness. The one thing here that is not unlikely is the doubt that every now and then arises in one’s mind when he/she tries to gauge the odds of existence against the astronomical size of the universe itself.
In the river of time, where entropy is driving everything downstream into dissociation, life is like an eddy current — short-lived and unstable. The history of the planet itself tells us one rule about life — “Extinction is a norm, survival is an exception”
There is no merit to marvel over how little were the odds that the universe would be formed, that the laws of physics would abide in a way that is sustainable for hydrogen and eventually other elements to be formed in a stable configuration, that a medium sized star would have a little blue planet with a polar universal solvent present in all three states of matter and also ample amount of carbon to create complex molecules and eventually life.
Because if the odds were not lined up, we would not be here thinking about it — elimination by Bayer’s method.
But even after cleansing your mind from the grand scheme, looking into the life in its highest form of abstraction- the human life; realising the mortal nature of our existence tends to put us into despair. It makes us think about the times, the people and the things that we are going to miss.
The fear of missing out is pretty high with this one.
I personally view being dead just as being unborn, I miss the things that happened when I was yet to be born only after I was born, during my stay in this conscious state of awareness called being alive. Post death, if I am unable to think or sense things around, since I cease to be, I will not miss out on anything. (Unless in the unlikely event of someone preserving me in a cryonic state to be brought back to life 100s or even 1000s of years in distant future)
The only things that I will ever feel bad about missing out would be the ones I miss out despite of being present and aware. And that is the root cause of human ambitiousness.
We want to experience love, hatred, greatness, mediocrity, pride, shame, joy, sorrow, success, failure and every other dichotomy of emotions that the human brain can generate. And we can experience these only when by doing as many thing as possible in the limited time we have on this pale blue dot. Even the people who are ambitious about being remembered after being gone are doing it for perceived feeling of their work being so good that it will be remembered post their descent. You want to write something that someone somewhere would read 100s of years in future too, but if the work gets its recognition after your death, you still miss out on the feeling of greatness that others will bestow upon you. A posthumous award is never for the receiver but those who knew, love and remember him/her.
Biologically we are all programmed by natural selection to thrive as a species as whole. Reproduce, survive, help others survive so they can reproduce too. But as we jump new steps of the Maslow’s pyramid as a species we also add new *primary life goals* to our existence. Having physiological amenities for self and providing them to the immediate family are a given since we invented agriculture. Housing, safe space and defence against the natural forces too have been well in place for sometime now. Education, entertainment and the more first worldly amenities are now becoming survival essentials. It is not that humans have changed biologically but our lives in the society has. We all have more specialised roles. And with specialisation comes the feeling of wanting to stand out — an essential fuel for ambition.